| Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi at a cafe in Paris. (AFP)
Tehran, Oct. 11 (Reuters): Iran’s first Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose award has sparked an exchange of fire between supporters and conservatives, was quoted today as saying the Islamic Republic needed radical reform.
Human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told the French daily Le Monde the honour she received yesterday would encourage human rights activists in her homeland, but denied the prestigious award was a political gesture by the Norwegian judges.
Iranian conservatives accused the Nobel committee of pandering to the West’s political agenda by awarding its Peace Prize to Ebadi. Ranged against them, reformists hailed her as a catalyst for change.
Ebadi, 56, is a thorn in the side of hardliners and a vocal campaigner on women’s rights who has taken on the defence of political activists — cases others feared to touch.
“If it doesn’t evolve, the Islamic Republic cannot continue,” Ebadi said. “Not only in government, but also in the country, we want reforms pursued in a serious and radical way.
“My stand is not against Islam. Currently, there are major ayatollahs who are in favour of the separation of the state from religion,” she told Le Monde.
While conservative-controlled state-run television and radio were still agonising over how to broadcast the news, Iranian women had seen yesterday’s award on US satellite stations and were excitedly ringing each other and sending text messages.
President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government congratulated Ebadi.
President George W. Bush today applauded the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi and said he hoped her country would embrace democracy.
“The US congratulates Shirin Ebadi on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize — a first for an Iranian, and for a Muslim woman,” Bush said.
“The prize recognises her lifetime of championing human rights and democracy,” he added.